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Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf, Ash Regan Alamy Stock Photo
Runners and Riders

Who is in the running to replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scottish First Minister?

Some potential contenders have already made their ambitions clear.

THREE CANDIDATES HAVE put themselves forward in the surprise race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon and become Scotland’s next first minister.

The Scottish National Party leader announced her resignation at a press conference last Wednesday.

Sturgeon said that being Scottish First Minister is “the very best job in the world, it is a privilege beyond measure”.

She said the role has “sustained and inspired me in good times and through the toughest hours of my toughest days”.

She said resigning was a difficult decision to make, and one she has wrestled with for several weeks. Ultimately, she cannot give the role “every ounce of energy that it needs”.

Sturgeon will remain in the role until the SNP appoints a successor.

So, who is in the running to replace her? Let’s take a look… 

Humza Yousaf

health-secretary-humza-yousaf-speaking-at-the-launch-of-his-campaign-to-become-the-next-first-minister-of-scotland-at-clydebank-town-hall-west-dunbartonshire-picture-date-monday-february-20-2023 Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Current Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf is regarded by many as a continuity candidate, after spending over a decade in the Scottish Government.

He has served as justice secretary, transport minister and international development minister, becoming the first Muslim to be appointed to the Scottish Government in 2012.

In 2021, in the midst of the Covid pandemic, he was given the key appointment of Health and Social Care Secretary – a post which has also put him in charge of controversial plans to bring in a National Care Service for Scotland.

This has been criticised by opposition MSPs, who have also lambasted Yousaf’s stewardship of the NHS after he presided over rising waiting times and growing numbers of delayed discharges.

However, Yousaf, who would be Scotland’s first first minister from an ethnic minority background if elected, has attracted the endorsement of a number of party colleagues at both Holyrood and Westminster.

The MPs and MSPs to have declared their support for him include the Europe minister Neil Gray, and public health minister Maree Todd.

Yousaf, announcing his leadership bid in the Sunday Mail, said he had been through a “rollercoaster of emotions” since Sturgeon announced her resignation.

He said: “You’ve got to put yourself forward if you think you’re the best person for the job. And I do. This is the top job in the country, and it needs somebody who has experience.”

Kate Forbes 

scottish-finance-secretary-kate-forbes-during-a-visit-to-autonomous-iot-at-chapelhall-industrial-estate-airdrie-to-tour-the-manufacturing-process-and-meet-newly-employed-graduates-ahead-of-the-scott Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Business minister Ivan McKee has given his backing to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who is running for the position of SNP leader and first minister even though she is still on maternity leave following the birth of her daughter last year.

Gaelic-speaking Forbes has long been seen as a potential successor to Sturgeon, and a recent newspaper poll found she was the most popular of the potential candidates.

She was thrust into the political limelight in 2020 when she delivered the budget as public finance minister just hours after Derek Mackay dramatically quit in disgrace – with her performance then seeing her appointed as Finance Secretary soon afterwards.

But Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, may face a struggle to win over some of the socially progressive members in the party, as a result of her views on abortion, same-sex marriage and trans rights.

In a video on Twitter, the Finance Secretary said: “The choices that we make in the next few weeks will have a profound impact on our future and on our children’s future.”

Saying someone is needed who can “unite” the SNP – which has been split recently by the controversy over reforms to the gender recognition process – she pledged to “reach out and listen”.

Forbes added: “More than anything we need a leader who is bold, brave and energised, fresh-faced and ready for new challenges.

The topic of gender regorms, which the current government has sought to push through, has left Sturgeon mired in controversy in recent months.

The UK Government blocked the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act which made it easier to self-identify as a chosen gender. Similar legislation has been enacted in other countries, including Ireland.

Sturgeon has also struggled to deal with the housing of transgender prisoners in women’s facilities after a double rapist was sent to a female jail – a decision that was later reversed.

Ash Regan

edinburgh-scotland-uk-8th-dec-2022-pictured-ash-regan-msp-formerly-ash-denham-former-scottish-minister-for-community-safety-weekly-session-of-first-ministers-questions-in-the-scottish-parliam Ash Regan MSP Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Like Forbes, Ash Regan is opposed to the Scottish Government’s gender recognition reforms, stepping down from her role as community safety minister to enable her to vote against the legislation.

She joined the SNP in the aftermath of the 2014 independence referendum defeat, having been a member of the Women for Independence campaign group in the run-up to that vote.

Elected as the MSP for Edinburgh Eastern in 2016, before joining the ranks of the Government in 2018, she lacks the cabinet experience that Youasaf and Forbes have.

However, the influential MP Joanna Cherry has given her backing to Regan, citing her “solid, left-wing credentials” working with the Common Weal think tank prior to being elected, and the “courage and leadership she has shown in standing up for the rights of women and girls”.

In the Sunday Mail, Regan said: “We need to bring back unity, draw a line under certain things and move past them. I believe I am the person to do that.

“The electorate expect the Scottish Government to focus on things that are important to them.

“That means the NHS which is still struggling to get back on its feet after the pandemic. People expect a First Minister to concentrate on boosting the economy, creating jobs and helping them deal with the cost-of-living crisis.”

Scottish Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson, SNP depute leader Keith Brown and Deputy First Minister John Swinney have ruled themselves out of the race, as have Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ukraine minister Neil Gray and the environment minister, Mairi McAllan.

Includes reporting by Press Association

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